Masks off

Coverage Check: 09/2021: Rejecting sincerity, testing positive, ready for post-covid shirtlessness

The other side of summer has been a car crash. I launched an art gallery and hosted the wildest opening in London since before the pandemic. “You blew [REDACTED] out of the water,” one guest said, as the party spilled out onto Bourdon Street causing a small traffic jam at our corner of the West End. “We’re not like other galleries,” one of the directors said half way through the night, “we give students beers.” The next day I sent people to Paris to see a collection of art that has never travelled out of Russia before. In an act of divine retribution, what I laughed off as a possible superspreader event at the beginning of summer, turned out to be exactly that. COVID finally caught up with me, so if this missive makes no sense it’s cos I’m still in recovery. I got kicked out of Film Club, but was granted access to Rachel Tashjian’s Opulent Tips (starting with her Venice Film Fest report), so I guess equilibrium has been maintained. Belmondo died, but my sex dreams are very much alive. I haven’t smoked in almost two weeks and all of a sudden I find myself desiring to dance shirtless on a bar to a Greek song about finding life at midnight [something about hell being the place to be] that I haven’t listened to since I was still in school (and dancing shirtless on a bar). Watch out for relevant video footage when I am back out into the world, for now enjoy the September missive below.

“Today’s descendants of Beckett, if there were any, would be deemed irresponsible for failing to state explicitly enough their commitment to antiracism.” - Justin E.H. Smith, Covid Is Boring

Roisin Kiberd is too neurotic for meditation. She’s back in therapy. She’s also writing a novel. She’s back in therapy partly because she’s writing this novel and partly because she felt like it. This according to her appearance in The Earthly Delights Podcast. She woke up feeling angry on the day of recording, the last day of summer, but in the hour and a half she spent on the pod, she comes across as a highly energetic, friendly sprite, touching on everything from her debut The Disconnect and the mayhem of social media to Tao Lin’s Warhol era and Kanye West’s DONDA. Berlin was a game changer for Kiberd. It took off the financial pressure that contributed to the breakdown she describes in her debut. “I wasn’t always feeling like a thwarted, overgrown teen unable to afford anywhere to live.” She’s since switched Germany for Ireland again, where she’s about to move in to new digs with Rob Doyle. “The self is always a work in progress,” she says near the beginning of the episode, expressing ideas about the internet and its interconnection to selfhood. “Social media is a tool to manufacturing self,” she continues, although she doesn’t think this is by default bad. Drawing on renaissance literature as another example, she sees the darker underbelly of social media as rooted in the medium’s commercial nature, one that’s unprecedented in history. Kiberd discovered a lot about herself by writing her debut. She’s into doppelgängers now, foreshadowing what her novel may entail.

Does he have nothing better to do?

Babe Bennett Madison revealed himself as a fake Dear Prudence letter writer. You gotta hand it to him. In addition to impeccable hair, he has the audacity to come out with this, consequences be damned. Part of it, if his Gawker confessional is any indication, comes down to him being done with his young adult past. He preempts the inevitable why by saying he found it “creatively fulfilling”: “I could follow the most demented threads of my imagination,” without being tied to the condemnations that have come to define the genre in recent years. If his crisis in his writing in 2018 says anything it’s that Madison has been in mid-metamorphosis since. Back when he was still in school, he dreamed up quite the scene involving writing such letters. “I imagined dormitories full of muscular undergrads lounging around in their undies and collaborating on phony scenarios before hitting the showers together to celebrate their labor,” he writes. “It was with this dream in mind that I approached my task.” It all comes down to sex then. He eventually called it quits when his final letter (out of 25!) made it on Fox News. Now that he’s come clean, maybe he can at long last take that energy and graduate to more adult books - same demented threads of imagination, more sex.

Barry Pierce spoke with Dennis Cooper for AnOther about his most personal book to date I Wished. Cooper describes it as a novel about the real George Miles [as opposed to the fictionalised version of the George Miles cycle] although it isn’t “completely factual.” What becomes clear during the course of the interview is that Cooper may never be done with George as far as writing is concerned, dismissing ideas of finality and a sense of an ending. It was an arduous project emotionally: “I want to find a way where I could write a book where I could just explode my feelings and emotions out.”

Elsewhere, the novelist notes that small presses have been leading transgressive literature in recent years but “you really have to hunt them down.” He sees the rise of queer pop culture as culprit. Back in the days of the George Miles cycle, books were it, but since then films, TV and music have lured audiences away from reading. Pierce ends the interview by asking Cooper’s opinion on the linguistic evolution of rimming to eating ass. Respect to anyone who gets a literary legend to say “Destroy my hole!” in an interview.

In his discussion with Troy James Weaver for Southwest Review, Cooper is more philosophical: “Is love stronger when the person you love is no longer there to interfere with it,” he asks, “or is love in that case just an act of exploitation and self-indulgence?” He doesn’t offer a definite response. He discarded an earlier version of the manuscript, which sounds more aligned to a straightforward autobiographical narrative. Unsatisfied with its chronological “inert and private and tiresome” scenes, he opted for a “chaotic” approach in his second attempt. Cooper isn’t interested in himself after all. “I just want to be his mouthpiece,” he tells Weaver of the real George. The conversation shifts to the author’s other endeavours, including his films and his blog. Always a supporter of young talent, he further platforms small presses (including Inside the Castle, Expat and Amphetamine Sulphate among others) as spaces where good writing is available. “I think of them more like exploding bright lights,” he says of young writers he likes.

Paul McAdory took a stand against “weepy disclosure and self-serious sentimentality” in gay fiction for Gawker by charting the trajectory of two poets into fiction writing in recent years. He ponders the “aesthetically and morally” flatlined writing in these works and seems to long for the Coopers and Genets of the world. Barry Pierce seems to agree:

Down with sentimentality, down with traumageddon, down with narratives of gay oppression and/or self-oppression. “Might we not celebrate instead a more horizontal outlay of sincerity, mania, irony, horror, meanness, humor, etc., one in which we do not take poetic earnestness to be primary to the other affective modes?” McAdory asks. Everything is embarrassing and it might as well be. What could be more pleasurable for the reader than that? Dismiss the misery, embrace chaos.

Three Month Fever, everyone’s new fav stack, had a whirlwind of an autumn so far. Some highlights:

  • Ashley Clarke introduced readers to the only lifestyle worth aspiring to, which is to be on a burnout, signed off work due to stress but still getting paid. Clarke, on the other hand, who’s in London while “everybody else is in Greece” is still working, typing emails in his head instead of sleeping and devising replies he’ll send when people inevitably email him back. (On A Summer Burnout)

  • Ana Kinsella submitted her book, now lost as to what to do with her free time. She makes stracciatella ice cream for herself and her friends, reads DeLillo at a North London pub garden. She gives herself over to running, five miles near Hampstead Heath and ten laps at a track. “If I had any thoughts in my brain before I started,” she says, “they have all evaporated by the time I finish.” (Today I Think I Am Happy)

  • Zsofia Paulikovics spent the summer figuring out if her boyfriend is a good person or not. That is in between dodging recounting her true dreams to his therapist mother, petting dogs at parties and falling down at wedding receptions. (And that’s how dad ended up shooting the Panasonic)

On the last day of summer, Ed Luker witnessed “a shirtless multiracial rebellion” at Hampstead Heath under the clouds of skunk smoke blended with the scent of poppers, prosecco and cheap alcohol. The scene report in his newsletter below deck, offers a glimpse at what the new 20s may be, where “the perennially underemployed and the hedonistically listless” enjoy a day in North London’s oasis free from the constrictions of jobs, bosses, rent and other pressures. Luker skipped the poetry reading in order to go swimming (don’t tell Barren Magazine, he’d be executed for treason). He wonders whether the last day of summer with its serenity and air of freedom could have been “the summer London could have had all the way.”

Cat Marnell is writing for New York Magazine, for which she had to fly out to London and stay at Hackney Central(?), tagging the city from Shoreditch to Soho and from St. Pancras to Stockwell with her boyfriend, before flying off to Paris for their mutual birthday celebrations.

In Paragraphs, Oscar Schwartz reminisced about selling Tao Lin weed when he visited Melbourne in 2013. Schwartz sees the focal conflict of Lin’s relentlessly covered Leave Society as one between the author and his avatar and central character Li. In Leave Society, Li aims to evolve beyond his tried and tested style of writing, that of “existential autofiction,” which he perceives as emblematic of “Dominator Society”; in writing Leave Society however, Lin has applied the blueprint of autofiction to his avatar, asphyxiating him with the chokehold of commodification. “Autofiction,” Schwartz says, “can swallow anything, even sincere attempts at revolutionary recovery.” Li may be ready to dispel the alienation of his writing thus far, but to Schwartz he is “ the most alienated of all of Tao Lin's fictional avatars.”

Paul Dalla Rosa doesn’t care what other people think of Sally Rooney. That is according to his fist interview for Bad Artist Statements with Chelsea Hodson. The duo, who originally met at Hodson’s Mors Tua Vita Mea workshop in Italy, talked about first books, second books and the internet. Hodson agrees with Rosa’s stance. She’s reading Knausgaard at last, now that the tidal waves of fanfare surrounding his work have flatlined (do not tell Our Struggle!), although being only half way through the Norwegian saga, she’s not ready to share her thoughts on Karl’s outpouring. She believes artists should avoid anything that’s as overhyped as a way of safeguarding their mind from pop ephemera that’s inevitably bad and may taint their own art.

Mariah Kreutter wrote a blockbuster review of the book of the season, Beautiful World, Where Are You for Soft Punk. She wears her heart on her sleeve, but her engagement with the text is thorough and her criticisms of the author’s choices are explored in great depth, resulting in one of the very few voices that haven’t been warped by the incredible hype that has washed over everything with the book’s publication. Taking a leaf out of Hodson’s book, I won’t be reading Rooney any time soon. Kreutter believes the sex scenes in it to be good, so I guess I have that to look forward to.

Jade Angeles Fitton took The Fence to fashion week of yesteryear with Club Couture. David Klion offered a class analysis of The O.C. and Gossip Girl (OG and trash) for The Drift. And on Bookforum, Lauren Oyler posited that Elena Ferrante is a man.

“Beware of evoking childhood in close proximity to a blowjob.”

Ben Hamilton is the rediscovery of the year. In his newsletter, No stars, no thumbs, he dissects AA Gill’s debut novel 25 years after its initial publication. “A half-forgotten embarrassment,” Sap Rising freed Gill from the constrictions of editors from his day job to embrace “his filthiest daydreams.” If you thought Jackie Collins was bad, Hamilton shows Gill’s drive to gross readers out while tarnishing writing sex. It is about sex, but also a sexual exorcism of sorts, the expression of sex becoming Gill’s purge of his reserves of unwritten sex he had built up over the years. Not that Hamilton is about to give him a free pass: “The novel exists as an overflow pipe for Gill’s worst tendencies,” he concludes. It’s interesting only because it is a disaster.

Nothing sticks for Adam Lehrer. In a two-part Safety Propaganda essay, he interrogates his inability to form attachments to the art of our contemporary moment, contrasted to that of his youth (using the films of David Lynch and the books of Norman Mailer to illustrate his point). The sheer volume of cultural products, he believes, together with the instant and fast way they’re disseminated, have neutered audiences excitement. “We are too depressed, too alienated, and too enraged to even engage with” art, he continues. He identifies two works, which he refers to as “cultural events”, that, though not the respective artist’s finest hour, do rise above the rest and succeed at enabling participation in audiences - a prerequisite to something being art, he says. These are Kanye West’s DONDA and Leos Carax Annette. West and Carax, he believes, “managed to disrupt the spectacle and demand the attention of masses of people.”

Morbid Books’ Lev Parker landed an interview with HERO Magazine to discuss the publication of My Week Without Gerard by Ivan Boris (it’s a pseudonym). The novel concerns a young freelance reporter, Lester Langway, who’s sent to Paris in search of a famous French philosopher (spoiler: it’s based on Bernard-Henri Levy). Among its characters are Jean-Luc Godard, Andre Breton, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Rick Owens, with the action taking place in the present but also featuring “scenes where it leaps back to Edmond Bailly’s bookshop in the 1890s, the 1920s and the birth of Surrealism and at others he’s in a 1960s New Wave film.”

Devin Kelly hasn’t written a poem in months. In Ordinary Plots, he reminisces (via Adam Zagajewski) about the intensity of writing when he was young(er). “I am trying to be open now, but I miss living in the almost-ness of the about-to-be-begun poem.” He has questions. What happens “when It feels your art has abandoned you?” When happens when creating art becomes the catalyst for loneliness and alienation? What happens when that loneliness is all that’s left? He tries to disentangle creating art from the artist’s role as labourer and the mere idea of success, to move beyond the idea that the artist has to constantly create art. “I want to allow myself stillness,” he says, “to remove expectations that feel stifling, borrowed from oppressive structures.”

P.S. Max Steele will be reading with Edmund White this Saturday as part of the Segue Reading Series.

P.P.S. How can The Fence afford a place in Soho?